aftermarket-business-world Article Originally printed in Aftermarket Business World magazine.
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When the manager of Arch Auto Parts’ Atlantic Avenue location in Brooklyn, N.Y., discovered smoke pouring into the basement from a fire in a nearby building in July, the fire department quickly had the facility evacuated and shut off the power. But that didn’t stop the store from doing business.

Thanks to a new voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) phone system and a new IT infrastructure, all calls were forwarded to another one of Arch’s 10 locations. Arch was able to continue to fill orders remotely.

The IT upgrade was part of a company-wide rebranding effort. While Arch Auto Parts is well-known with repairers in the New York area, the company didn’t’ have as much visibility with retail consumers as big box competitors like AutoZone. Arch remodeled its stores to be more consumer-friendly, and also deployed the new phone system, a new point of sale (POS) solution, new IT network infrastructure, and a GPS-enabled dispatch and delivery system.

“We’ve been in business 30 years, and we really wanted to let retail shoppers know more about us,” says vice president of marketing Lucy Henner. “We wanted shoppers to know that we were in the neighborhood, and that we’re open and responsive to retail customers as well as shops. That needed to be obvious from outside the stores as well as inside.”

More flexible phone, POS systems

Arch Auto Parts is a member of the Automotive Parts Service Group, and in addition to its 10 stores also operates four warehouses. Arch stocks some 50,000 parts, and is able to fill orders from inventory 95 percent of the time for customers in the Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau/Long Island area.

Arch has been using the Epicor Ultimate suite for several years, but updated a number of other systems over the past year. The bulk of the IT changes were to customer-facing systems.

Arch used to have individual phone servers with copper lines at each location, but president and CFO Tom Henner says the company wanted to be able to leverage the phone system across all locations. They invested in an Allworx VoIP solution hosted by Windstream over a multiprotocol label-switching (MPLS) network.

“That lets us move customer calls from one location to another,” Henner says. “If one store is closed we can forward calls to another location, and we can do things with call monitoring that we couldn’t do before.”

Arch Auto serves a significant Spanish-speaking population, so customers can call in and be connected with specific countermen that can help them. Customers can also dial direct extensions to talk to their preferred countermen.

If a connection goes down, calls can be redirected to another part of the network. There is also a separate, high-capacity network with more latency that is used for monitoring the stores with networked video cameras.

Arch also installed networked cash registers so that activity could be pulled, balanced and reconciled more efficiently. “From a control standpoint that lets us know at the end of the day all the transactions that went through the cash registers,” Tom Henner says.

The company also is using a Bank of America cash management solution that lets staff feed bills into smart safes that count and sort the bills, and then automatically credits Arch’s accounts. The company also has check scanners installed so that checks can automatically be deposited from the stores.

GPS-based delivery management

Arch Auto Parts uses a network of some 75 or 80 drivers for deliveries throughout the city. Using a fleet tracking solution developed internally, the company can now track those drivers using their GPS-enabled phones. When a ticket gets printed and merchandise is pulled for the delivery, the dispatch manager scans the ticket. That scan pulls all of the customer location information from Epicor. The deliveries are associated with the driver assigned to those stops. When the driver approaches each delivery site, the system notes that the delivery is imminent. If a shop calls about a delivery, dispatchers can see exactly where the driver is, and if there is an extra pick-up or delivery, managers also can find the nearest driver.

“We’re open longer hours than most drivers would be working and our drivers use their own cars, so this lets us know where they are,” Tom Henner says.

The store remodeling effort is ongoing (not all locations have been converted yet), but Tom Henner says that the investment in new technology has paid off. It’s been especially valuable as the company expands.

“We feel like we have a good, stable and modular platform now,” Tom Henner says. “That’s been a key advantage for us, and we can add stores without taking a lot of time to get thing up and running. The system needed to be replicable, so we have a nice set of checklists and processes that we can add from a technical standpoint. We can add new locations without having to reinvent the wheel.”